The Amazing Alfa Romeo Montreal
Pretty much everyone likes the Alfa Romeo Montreal, and it's easy to see why. But if you've ever wondered why there's an Alfa named after a Canadian city over 6000 Km away from Milan, welcome to the story of the Alfa Romeo Montreal.
Our story begins on the 28th of April, 1967, with the inauguration of the World's Fair in Montreal. The visitors of the pavilion dedicated to mankind's technical achievements were treated, among other marvels of the modern world, to the sight of two identical Alfa Romeo coupés resplendent in pearlescent white paint.
It's unclear why, of all of the world's automakers, the Expo's organizers chose Alfa Romeo, but it does make sense once you consider the brief was to express nothing less than "the highest aspiration of man in terms of cars." After all, it could be argued that was already Alfa's whole business!
Pulling it off wasn't easy, though, as the Expo's organizers approached Alfa Romeo just nine months before the event's inauguration.
The dauntingly short timeframe led the company to choose the existing Giulia GT's platform as a starting point and outsource the task of designing and constructing the two prototypes to Nuccio Bertone's famed Carrozzeria, as creating heart-stopping show cars within impossible deadlines was his firm's specialty.
Bertone's designer, Marcello Gandini, had just finished working on the Lamborghini Miura and its design language clearly influenced the Alfa prototypes despite their front-engine configuration.
As the cars' intended purpose was simply to wow the Expo's visitors, Bertone dug deep into its bag of tricks, concealing the headlights behind slots in a giant clamshell bonnet and adding non-functional side slots. The latter was a design element borrowed from a previous Bertone creation, the Canguro from 1964, and was there purely for dramatic effect.
The result was a sleek vision for the future that promised a level of performance way beyond what the installed powerplant could actually muster, as both show cars were equipped with the base Giulia Ti 1.6 liters twin cam engine, rated at 92 HP at 6000 Rpm.
While that was already more than enough for sitting on a turntable, it was clear to everyone at Alfa Romeo that an eventual production model needed a powertrain just as exotic as Bertone's bold exterior design suggested.
Luckily, Alfa Romeo's racing arm Autodelta had such an engine in-house, in the form of the two-liters four-cam V8 used on the "Tipo 33" sports-prototype racing program and the low-production 33 Stradale that was directly derived from that.
In short, the Montreal project became a production reality thanks to a unique set of unrepeatable circumstances: the contemporary availability of a Bertone design so stunning it couldn't be ignored and Autodelta's racing V8 engine during a period of growth and confidence in the future for Alfa Romeo as a whole.
That doesn't mean the transition from the Expo's stage to Europe's roads wasn't a challenging one, though.
The V8 engine
Autodelta's V8 made plenty of power, but it was a highly-strung screamer designed with racing in mind, and transforming it into the smooth, flexible powerplant Montreal owners know and love took a laborious re-engineering process.
The remarkably compact aluminum engine block with iron cylinder liners remained very similar to the one used on the 33 sports prototypes, but its displacement grew to roughly 2.6 liters thanks to a 2 mm wider bore and a 12,3 mm longer stroke.
The new crankshaft abandoned the 33's flat-plane design for a more traditional 90° cross-plane to achieve a better balance. However, the engine block's tight dimensions limited the size of the more substantial counterweights the new crankshaft needed, forcing Alfa Romeo to source an aerospace-grade sintered tungsten alloy named "turconit," specifically chosen for its high specific weight.
To keep the bonnet line as low as possible, the Montreal's V8 retained the dry-sump lubrication system used on the 33s, a solution typical of racing engines but rarely used on production ones due to its additional costs.
The Lucas indirect fuel-injection system used on the 33 racing engines was far too crude for road use and was replaced for the Montreal by a system developed by the Alfa Romeo subsidiary Spica.
It used a mechanical pump driven by the crankshaft via a rubber belt and fed by two electric pumps located in the fuel tank. The system was similar to the one used on the US-spec Spiders and GTs and was quite advanced for the era, its sole weakness being the period mechanics' stubborn reluctance to learn how to service it properly.
For the sake of simplicity, the double spark plug per cylinder used on the 33 engines was abandoned in favor of an electronically-controlled capacitor discharge ignition system (the first on a production Alfa engine) using just a single plug per cylinder.
The result was a remarkably compact and light powerplant rated at 200 HP at 6500 Rpm but that, most importantly, produced already 90% of its maximum torque output at just 2700 Rpm.
As the engine's torque output was far beyond what the Giulia's gearbox could handle, Alfa Romeo settled for a ZF S5/18 manual five-speeder, which sent power to the rear wheels via a limited-slip differential.
Body and chassis
Perhaps the least inspiring aspect of the Montreal is its chassis design that, due to costs and time constraints, remained a close derivative of the 1750 GTV, albeit with a 2 mm wider track at the front and 12 at the rear.
The braking system used ventilated discs on all four wheels, and the Montreal sat on four Michelin 195/70 tires mounted on Campagnolo 14" alloy wheels whose characteristic "turbine" design would go on to feature on many subsequent Alfa models.
The bodyshell of the Montreal was manufactured by Bertone near Turin, starting from the floorpan and firewall pressings supplied by Alfa's Arese plant, where the bodies were sent back once fully completed to receive their engines and running gear.
Even though the Montreal's exterior design nowadays garners almost universal admiration wherever it goes, contemporary critics were somewhat less impressed when the car went on sale in 1971.
Compared to the prototype from nearly four years earlier, the production car appeared chunkier and less streamlined due to the many modifications made to make more room in the cabin and under the bonnet.
Despite the V8's compact dimensions, the bonnet line and scuttle still had to become taller, and so did the roofline. The rear end became taller and chunkier, too, to accommodate the large fuel tank and spare wheel. The windshield had a less aggressive rake, the curvature of the side windows was reduced, and the front overhang was nearly 6 cm shorter than the original prototype. The black NACA duct on the bonnet was fake, while two of the six slots on each side did serve as outlets for stale cabin air.
However, what was considered the cutting edge of automotive design was moving on rapidly at the time, and the Montreal's voluptuous curves seemed almost old-fashioned against the sharp wedge designs that Bertone itself was pioneering at the time.
Nevertheless, initial enthusiasm for Alfa's new flagship GT proved high: 668 cars were delivered in 1971, which became 2,377 the following year: an excellent result given the model's steep retail price and high running costs. To put that into perspective, Alfa Romeo's sold 5443 copies of the successful Spider in the same year.
However, it was all downhill from there, as the Oil Crisis triggered by the Yom Kippur War decimated the performance car market between 1973 and '74.
Conceived in a period of prosperity and optimism, the Montreal was decidedly out of place in the new era of high fuel costs, speed limits on motorways, and double-digit inflation. Alfa Romeo itself as a company had changed, its management preoccupied with much more pressing issues like falling productivity, poor quality, and skyrocketing costs.
Montreal production fell to a trickle, but the model remained on Alfa's catalog until as late as 1977: 27 cars were completed that year, up 4 units from the just 23 made in 1976.
During that period, Autodelta's boss Carlo Chiti thought of installing the Montreal's V8 in a small series of Alfetta GTs built to challenge the Lancia Stratos' dominance in the world rally championship.
However, the production tooling had already been disposed of by then, as the expensive powerplant had no place in any of the future Alfa Romeo models.
The two original prototypes from the 1967 Expo returned to Italy once the exhibition closed and still survive in the Alfa Romeo museum's reserve collection.